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10 Poets On Their Favorite Poetry Collections Of 2018

Jenny Xie, Tommy Pico, Sam Sax, and seven other poets share their favorite collections of the year.

Lixia Guo / BuzzFeed News

Maggie Smith recommends If You Have to Go by Katie Ford


"Katie Ford’s If You Have to Go (Graywolf 2018) broke my heart, but more importantly, it set my brain on fire; it made me want to write. I dog-eared the hell out of my copy. The long sonnet sequence in particular is an incredible achievement. At the end of a marriage, the loss one feels is a many-tentacled beast. I feel lucky, as a reader, that Ford wrestled with it in this book, and with a combination of strength and grace."

Maggie Smith is the author of three prizewinning books: Lamp of the Body, The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, and Good Bones, the title poem from which went viral internationally and was called the “Official Poem of 2016” by PRI (Public Radio International). Smith has received a Pushcart Prize as well as fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Academy of American Poets. Her poems have appeared in the New York Times, Tin House, APR, The Believer, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Best American Poetry, and on the CBS primetime drama Madam Secretary.

Hanif Abdurraqib recommends Cape Verdean Blues by Shauna Barbosa

Courtesy of the author

"A poetry collection I truly loved this year was Cape Verdean Blues by Shauna Barbosa. It's such a generous book. It thrives on its ability to give and give, even through its linguistic flourishes and singularly beautiful tour of references. I found so much rhythmic quality throughout, I found myself thinking of the book like a well-crafted album. I imagine all of my favorite books like this, because all of my favorite books allow me to imagine them this way. With bounce, with image, with a single person doing the work of a whole choir."

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. He is the author of The Crown Ain't Worth Much (Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press, 2016), nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us (Two Dollar Radio, 2017), named a best book of 2017 by NPR, Pitchfork, Oprah Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Esquire, GQ, and Publisher's Weekly, among others Abdurraqib has multiple forthcoming books including a book on A Tribe Called Quest> titled Go Ahead In The Rain (University of Texas Press, February 2019), the new collection of poems A Fortune For Your Disaster (Tin House, 2019) and a history of Black performance in the United States titled They Don't Dance No Mo' (Random House, 2020).

Tommy Pico recommends When Rap Spoke Straight to God by Erica Dawson

Niqui Carter

"My favorite new poetry collection this year was When Rap Spoke Straight to God by Erica Dawson. Obviously I love long poems, and the book is insightful, meticulous, and quietly eviscerating—just like her!"

Tommy "Teebs" Pico is author of the books IRL (Birds LLC, 2016), Nature Poem (Tin House Books, 2017), and Junk (Tin House Books, 2018). He's the winner of a Whiting Award and the Brooklyn Public Library's Literature Prize, and he was a Queer/Art/Mentors inaugural Fellow, Lambda Literary Fellow in poetry, and NYSCA/NYFA Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He co-curates the reading series Poets With Attitude (PWA) with Morgan Parker, co-hosts the podcast Food 4 Thot, and is a contributing editor at Literary Hub. Originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, he now lives in Los Angeles.

Jenny Xie recommends The Dream of Reason by Jenny George

Teresa Mathew

"George's perceptual wonder creates striking ruptures, and makes elastic the borders between dream and waking life. This is a book that presses us close to the 'violent motion' that courses through human and cosmic time. I love and admire the deep attentiveness in these poems — the frontal gazes at the difficulty and strangeness our most intimate connections and losses."

Jenny Xie is the author of Nowhere to Arrive, recipient of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize, and her poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, the New Republic, Poetry, Tin House, and elsewhere. She lives in New York and teaches at New York University. Eye Level is her most recent collection.

sam sax recommends Inquisition by Kazim Ali

Courtesy of the author

"Kazim Ali’s newest collection is replete with language that sticks to the ribs and refuses to be shook free. This book left me shook, left me shaking. Inquisition negotiates diaspora, desire, queerness, nostalgia, race, gender, militarism, faith, and bludgeons the reverence into irreverence. Each poem functions as a window offering a reader a new way into the collection, longer narrative wending pieces butt up against searing fragmented lyrics. History is alive and living in this book, where the past throbs inside the present and offers us a truer way of seeing. This collection’s not to be missed."

sam sax is a queer, Jewish writer and educator. The author of Madness,
winner of The National Poetry Series, and Bury It, winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. He’s the poetry editor at BOAAT Press, a 2018 + Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Fellow from the Poetry Foundation, and currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Angel Nafis recommends If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

Rachel Eliza Griffiths

"In 2018, If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar was the book I didn't know I needed. Keep in mind that I have studied poetry intensely for half of my life, that I have a straight up terminal degree in the damn thang, AND that I have been a longtime admirer of every single thing Fatimah does. And still, somehow, I didn't anticipate the ways in which the book's seamlessly toned longing, rich avalanching images, and bifurcated narrative would be designed so exactly for my heart's pleasure. I read the entire thing in one juicy day spent strewn across the couch, buried beneath the covers in bed, and submerged in a bath (desperate not to soggy the pages). RUN DON'T WALK TO THIS OUTSTANDING DEBUT."

Angel Nafis is a Cave Canem Fellow and author of BlackGirl Mansion (Red Beard Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in the BreakBeat Poets Anthology, BuzzFeed Reader, the Rumpus, Poetry Magazine, and more. She represented the NYC at the National Poetry Slam and the Women of the World Poetry Slam. She's an Urban Word NYC mentor and founder, curator, and host of the Greenlight Poetry Salon. Recipient of the 2016 Ruth Lily Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship and the 2017 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, she is an MFA Candidate in Poetry at Warren Wilson College. With poet Morgan Parker she is the Other Black Girl Collective.

Kaveh Akbar recommends feeld by Jos Charles

Hieu Minh Nguyen

"It's one of the most unprecedented books, in any genre, I've ever encountered, both for its technique and its provocation, its inimitable drivenness. It was said of Celan that he 'translated German using German,' and that's how I feel about what Charles is doing in feeld — she is shaking the dust off our musty worn-out English (which, like Celan's German, has become a cudgel in the hand of a tyrannical regime), using our language's own roots to make it new and strange again, to restore to English some sense of its incipient dash and doom."

Kaveh Akbar's poems appear in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New Republic, Best American Poetry, The New York Times, and elsewhere. He is the author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James/Penguin UK 2017) and a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, published by Sibling Rivalry. He is editing an anthology of poetry about the spirit called Writing the Divine (Penguin Classics 2020). The recipient of a Levis Reading Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, Kaveh is the founding editor of Divedapper, a home for interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry. Born in Tehran, Iran, he teaches at Purdue University and in the low-residency MFA programs at Randolph College and Warren Wilson.

Natalie Eilbert recommends The Soft Life by Bridget Talone

Courtesy of the author

"The Soft Life is a book that electrifies diction, describes the act of eating cotton candy as 'spitting on a whisper,' and is self-aware enough to have a poem called 'Confusional' that reads like an Adderall-fueled 21st-century Sylvia Plath. I’ve been calling it 'Internet baroque' when I get to talk about it. Talone combines gauzy Latinate lexicon with Tumblr verbiage so that, perhaps for the first time in written history, the words 'I like ur oracular half most' are uttered. I love this book because it sounds nothing like any other book I’ve read this year or any. Read any poem in this collection not like linear thought but like vertical code. The music is a tongue piled with glitter, dry-heaving glitter. It’s a book that makes you feel half phosphorescent, half oracular."

Natalie Eilbert's work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Granta, the New Yorker, Tin House, the Kenyon Review, jubilat, and elsewhere. She was the recipient of the 2016 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellowship at University of Wisconsin–Madison and is the founding editor of the Atlas Review.

Diamond Sharp recommends Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez

Courtesy of the author

"Jose's book is a moving portrait of Mexican-American identity in Chicago."

Diamond Sharp is a poet and writer from Chicago. Her work has been published in the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Vice, Pitchfork, and others.

Nate Marshall recommends Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen

Courtesy of the author

"I think Hieu writes in a way that I envy and that terrifies me. He is one of the great explorers of the emotion shame."

Nate Marshall is from the South Side of Chicago. He is the author of Wild Hundreds and an editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. His last rap album, Grown came out in 2015 with his group Daily Lyrical Product. Nate is a member of The Dark Noise Collective and co-directs Crescendo Literary with Eve Ewing. Nate has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Poetry Foundation, and The University of Michigan. He is the Director of National Programs for Louder Than A Bomb Youth Poetry Festival and has taught at The University of Michigan, Wabash College, and Northwestern University.

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